Myaamia Winter Gathering 2023

The 26th Annual Myaamia Winter Gathering was a great success. It doubled as a final celebration of the 50th Anniversary of neepwaantiinki ‘learning from each other.’ This is a phrase used to symbolize the relationship between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University. Many relationships have been kindled by others and the Miami Tribe as well.

A majority of this year’s guests were visitors from Miami University. Miami University President Greg Crawford, University Ambassador Dr. Renate Crawford, and nearly 40 others, including deans, administrative staff, academic faculty, and students, were in attendance. Myaamia students and Myaamia Center faculty from Miami University helped facilitate and engage with other guests throughout the weekend. We were also pleased to host guests from other universities, museums, and institutions whose important relationships have been developed over the years. Other members of the Myaamia community also enjoyed coming together again after 3 years of limited contact due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday morning, the weekend began with a warm welcome to all guests from Akima ‘Chief’ Douglas Lankford; members of the Business Committee, Dustin Olds, Scott Willard, and Donya Williams; Kara Strass from the Myaamia Center; and Julie Olds of the Cultural Resources Office of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

Following this, guests enjoyed playing Myaamia games, seensewinki ‘bowl game’ and mahkisina meehkintiinki ‘moccasin game.’ Many Myaamia students enthusiastically helped guests learn and play the games and use Myaamiaataweenki, ‘the Miami language.’ The Myaamia Makerspace also hosted some hands-on, creative activities. One was a ribbonwork-inspired bookmark activity using cut paper. The other was a beaded bracelet activity using colorful beads and letters to spell words and phrases in Myaamiaataweenki. Both the games and makerspace activities were very popular, with around 130 guests learning and playing games, making and taking home one of their creations from the makerspace activities, helping others, or observing.

In the afternoon, The Path to Partnership: Celebrating Neepwaantiinki presentation and panel provided an insightful look at those who have invested in the relationship between Miami University and the Miami Tribe over the years. The panel was emceed by Dr. Cam Shriver. Panelists with Miami University who shared their personal and professional experiences included Daryl Baldwin, Bobbe Burke, Reed Anderson, Cory Foster, and Dolph Greenberg. Tribal members Kathy Carter Young, Nate Poyfair, Joshua Sutterfield, Kara Strass, and Haley Shea shared their personal experiences with the Heritage Program at Miami University. It revealed how the program has shaped their lives and influenced their families. Perspectives from both partners revealed how the path to their partnership was forged, nurtured, and sustained by both the University and the Tribe. Their stories provided insight into what a 50-year relationship in the making has required and provided.

George Ironstrack, who serves as both the assistant director at the Myaamia Center and program director of the Myaamia Center education office, briefly introduced stomp dance and storytelling. This helped guests understand how to participate respectfully and enjoy the dances and stories later that evening and the next day.

The meal Friday evening was kindly catered by Mariah Tyner, a local member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, and her team. Tyner is well known for her Indian fry-bread, corn soup, beef and hominy, and grape dumplings. Those in attendance enjoyed beef and hominy, wild rice with pecans, roasted chicken and gravy, fried sunchokes, and venison meatballs with the venison provided by Kyle Lankford, son of Akima Lankford.

Man crouched down and covering his head
Jarrid Baldwin telling the story of Wiihsakacaakwa going visiting. Photo by Jonathan M. Fox

Storytelling is a portion of Winter Gathering that allows guests to hear Myaamiaataweenki being spoken in the recital of various stories from myaamia ancestors that have been written down and preserved. Last year, due to the smaller gathering of community members, a question and answer session about the stories provided an excellent opportunity for Myaamia people to learn more. That model was adopted again this year to allow community members to ask questions and gain insight in a small group setting, excluding non-myaamia guests.

Saturday morning, tours rotated between the Myaamia Heritage Museum and Archives (MHMA) and Tribal Headquarters. The MHMA currently hosts three exhibits; Niikinaana: Our Homes, Minohsaya: Myaamia & Peewaalia Hide Art, and Keelonteehameekwi Tending the Fire: Celebrating 50 Years of Neepwaantiinki. Visitors engaged with the various exhibits and asked questions to gain a deeper understanding of the displays. They commented on how it was interesting to see Myaamiaataweenki in the traditional wiikiaami and modern living room settings. For example, waapantenaakani is used for ‘candle’ and ‘lamp.’ Visitors also connected the characters in the minohsaya ‘painted hide’ exhibit to the winter stories from storytelling the night before. At Tribal Headquarters, 4 groups of roughly 25 people came and toured the facilities to learn more about the Miami Nation, its operations, and programs and see the newly built National Archives.

One of the other key features of the annual Myaamia Winter Gathering is stomp and social dances. This year, the afternoon began with a gourd dance enjoyed by many guests, relatives, and friends. After dinner, stomp and social dances started and carried on in song and dance until midnight. This annual event allows Myaamia people to come together and connect with significant aspects of their culture through continual revitalization efforts. However, guests of all ages and experiences enjoy participating in the dances. Many individuals from other tribes and several Myaamia tribal members participated as leaders and shakers.

The Annual Myaamia Winter Gathering has grown and flourished over the years. This year has once again provided shared memories and relationship-building. The Miami tribe looks forward to celebrating Myaamia culture again next year and for many generations to follow.

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